Opera singer (B. October 10th, 1928, Polonezköy / Istanbul - D. May 10th, 2008, Milan). Before marrying (1946) the bank officer İbrahim Gencer, her surname was Ayşe Leylâ Çeyrekgil. Her mother, Aleksandra Angela Minakovska, who later converted to Islam and chose the name Atiye after her husband's death, was a member of a Polish aristocrat family. Her father, Hasanzade İbrahim Bey, who later adopted the surname Çeyrekgil following the Surname Law, was from a respected family of Safranbolu. İbrahim Bey, along with his brother Hüseyin Çeyrekgil, was doing commercial works like farming, fishery and transporting. Besides, he took over a business of Lale Cinema Hall and had a commercial building in Karaköy, Istanbul. The family was staying on the home on Bosphorus in winters and in Yeşilköy or Polonezköy in summers. The mother, Minakovska was a sophisticated lady who read a lot of books, played the piano and guitar, and sang songs. Leyla, had learned French from her caregiver, a “mademoiselle”. Thus, she started to read French classical literature. She gained wide information on world literature, theater, music and all aspects of art in her childhood.
She started to study in Notre Dame de Sion High School and finished her education at Istanbul Italian High school. Following the high school years, she worked at Beyazıt Library for a while. Then, she began to study singing at Istanbul Conservatory. She became the student of one of the well-known teachers of France, Reine Gelenbevi and Cemal Reşit Rey, Muhittin Sadak. But, she dropped the school as she met with the famous Italian soprano Gianna Arangi Lombardi, who was giving lessons at Ankara Conservatory at the time and moved to Ankara to study with her. She became the student of Lombardi and Italian tenor Apollo Granforte.
Between the years of 1946-49, she sang in the Istanbul City Chorus. Upon the request of Muhsin Ertuğrul, who directed the Ankara State Theater and Opera then, she went to Ankara. Her operatic debut was in Ankara in 1950 as “Santuzza” in ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ which is the opera by Mascagni.
Between the years of 1950-58, she became the most well-known soprano of Ankara State Opera and sang mostly at recitals of the Turkish government. She sang arias for the world's leading kings, queens and presidents in Ankara. She went to Rome in 1952. In 1954, she made her debut in Italy at the San Carlo Opera House in Naples. Again, she performed as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana during the summer festival. After she performed in Madame Butterfly and Eugene Onegin; she became known as “La Diva Turca”. She performed in 'La Traviata' as Violetta in various European cities. She participated in international festivals and gave recitals with piano accompaniment.
In 1956, she replaced the famous opera singer Renata Tebaldi who was sick then and took the stage in 'San Francesca de Rimini’ opera and gained great success. She sang in the lead roles of ‘La Traviata’ and upon the absence of Maria Callas, in ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ at the San Francisco Opera House. Gaining huge success. After those, she sang in numerous operas, recitals and concerts in the USA.
January 26, 1957 in Milan, she achieved her dream to sing at the La Scala Theatre. With her success in Francis Poulenc's "Les Dialogues de Carmelites' opera, she was entitled as the prima donna and reached the top. Leyla Gencer stayed at the top till 1980 when she gave up the stage, at all famous stages of the world as "La Diva Turca '
Leyla Gencer, who gave concerts with orchestra at Albert Hall in London, Carnegie Hall in New York, sang the operas and works of Verdi, Bellini, Donizetti, Mozart, Monteverdi, Gluck, Tchaikovsky, Britten, Puccini, Cherubini, Spontini , Mayr, Pizeeti etc. at La Scala successfully for many long years. Her interpretations of Chopin’s lyrics compositions, Lizst Bartok interpretation in Paris with Nikita Magaloff, an artist from La Scala, and the concert program consisting of sections from operas concerning the Turks in 1982 Venice Carnaval at the La Fenice Theatre prove the picky and researcher side of her. She sang in an opera for the last time in 1985 at the Fenice Theatre in Venice and Leyla Gencer continued her concerts and recitals till 1992. She received the Sevda Cenap And Music Foundation Honor Award, the Gold Medal in 1994. In 1987, she participated in the International Istanbul Festival, and gave a concert at St. Irene.
She strongly opposed to the suggestions to change her name and nationality. She trained many young artists after 1982 at La Scala. The artist is considered as the 'last diva of the XX. Century’. Gencer, who strengthened her place in the opera world not only with the variety of her repertoire but also with the dramatic details she added to the characters she portrayed, brought many forgotten works of the romantic period to light due to her researcher personality and as a result of being a responsible educator. The ashes of the artist who died on May 10, 2008 in Milan were thrown in the Bosphorus with a ceremony upon her will.
Besides the ‘State Artist 'title given in 1988, as well as the most recent Caruso Prize in 2007 in Italy, Gencer had many opera prizes and medals. In 1995 she launched the ‘Leyla Gencer International Singing Competition' and continued to bring new talents to the world of opera. Silver commemorative coin was issued on her name in 2004 in Turkey on behalf of Turkey, and there are many books in Turkey and the world written about her.